In the game of ice hockey, the hockey stick is the piece of equipment a player uses to carry, pass and shoot “the puck.” Finding the “right” stick is part of becoming a hockey player. Custom sticks and sticks patterned after that of hockey's best players make up the general market. A serious player will have as many as ten or more extra sticks because of how often they can break and also to have a variety. Currently, hockey sticks are most commonly made from graphite materials. Other materials, such as kevlar, titanium and aluminum have been used, but historically hockey sticks are made of laminated wood reinforced with fiberglass. A typical hockey stick is about 150 to 200 cm in length. Multiply that number by ten and then again by the amount of serious hockey players there are in the world and the idea of how many hockey sticks are produced annually starts to become clear. According to statista.com, from the years of 2012 to 2016, wholesale sale of hockey sticks has increased from around sixty-one million to over sixty-four million USD. Graphite sticks often retail for well over a hundred dollars. Doing a search for sticks at purehockey.com results in roughly ninety sticks that range in price from one-hundred to three-hundred dollars. Meanwhile, a search for sticks that range in price from twenty-five to ninety-nine dollars results in about fifty options. These numbers indicate that the trend for higher priced hockey sticks is the standard.
The earliest known manufacturers of hockey sticks dates back to the late 1800's and to the indigenous Mi'kmaqs peoples of Nova Scotia. Hockey lore has it that the Mi'kmaqs played pond hockey and are largely credited with inventing the hockey stick. The Mi'kmaqs design was later sold as Mic Mac hockey sticks. The sticks were made of hardwoods, generally maple, birch or ash. Overtime, methods changed and hockey sticks became laminated wood, reinforced by fiberglass. This style lasted clear into the 1980's when aluminium shafts became more widely available. The durability and lightness of the aluminum shafts made them more popular than the heavy, hardwood shafts that dominated the hockey world for well over several decades. The problem with aluminum shafts is that they are metal and lack the responsiveness that wood fibers have. The “flex” and “whip” of a hockey stick are important factors for a serious player to consider. Sticks that can “flex” without breaking and “whip” with consistent responsiveness are the most popular. Graphite shafts have the desired “flex” and “whip,” but are entirely more brittle than aluminum. Nonetheless, graphite sticks took over the market of hockey sticks into the 2000's and are now the standard. Hockey sticks have a tradition of being produced in Canada and the northern regions of the United States. As hardwood hockey sticks became of less interest to hockey players, graphite models took over and with it, production of hockey sticks basically left Canada and the United States.
Hockey sticks are made by weaving graphite strands together. The strands are woven into a shaft and held by epoxy resin. From Dave Feschuk's description of Warrior hockey stick factory process; “The raw material is aerospace-grade carbon fibre that has been pre-impregnated with resin — a glue-like substance. The material is cut to size by a worker with a utility knife. The shaft is created by hand-wrapping ribbons of carbon fibre around a piece of pre-formed plastic that gives it its shape. The blade, a more finicky construction with its angles and contours, is also wrapped by hand around a high-density foam core. Shafts and blades are made separately, but similarly. They’re both placed in aluminum moulds and heated under pressure for about an hour at 300 C. The resin, as it’s heated, expands and travels between the fibres. When the carbon fibre cures and cools and the mould is removed, the once-fabric-like material has the mix of strength and flexibility for which high-priced hockey sticks — some of which retail for as much as $300 — are prized.”
Solvents used to produce the resin are harmful to the environment as well as to the people who use them. People can experience complications ranging from skin irritation to some forms of cancer. Generally, once cured, epoxy resins are considered non-toxic. The formed material, though hockey sticks do break, are hard to break down otherwise. An innumerable amount of sticks have gone to landfills, but many are often recycled. Hockeystickbuilds.com offers ideas and instructions on what and how to reuse old hockey sticks to build something new. The website also offers more in depth information of how to use graphite shafts to build things and how and why the material is considerably different than wood sticks reinforced with fiberglass.
Ryan Leng argues in an opinion article, The Hockey Stick Sham, that hockey sticks are part of the cultural fabric of Canada. When he thinks of purchasing a stick that says “Fabrique Au Canada” he feels that his money is going to a localised place and is therefore mutually beneficial. Leng says that he doesn’t mind spending more money on a product if part of the money is going to the local economy. He feels disenchanted by the notion that hockey stick production has moved far and away from Canada. Most hockey sticks are now produced in China and Mexico. Sports columnist Dave Feschuk visited the Warrior hockey stick factory in Tijuana, Mexico.Warrior is a strong brand name as the company supplies many of the greatest hockey players in the world with their sticks. Feschuck interviewed the factory manager and learned that the employees who make the sticks are people who have never seen the game. The identity of the sport of hockey relates to a sense of culture not of their own.
Sher-wood hockey sticks were the last mass produced hockey stick in Canada. The Montreal, Quebec company moved the last of its production to China in 2011. The move only affected the employment of about forty people, yet it was the sign of the end of what was a culturally rooted Canadian product. The legacy of production stemmed from the Mi'kmaqs of Nova Scotia and grew to a sizable industry in Quebec to be eventually moved out of the country all together. As some will argue that the game was invented in Canada and so ought to be localized as such. On the other hand, the game is growing rapidly. The Kontinental Hockey League recently added a team from China into their schedule as a sign of things to come.